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In their letter to HEFCE and OFFA (note 1), Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, recognise that the two bodies already collaborate extensively, and acknowledge their significant contribution to coordinating work on widening participation and access. 

The Ministers ask OFFA and HEFCE to now ‘look strategically across investment streams to ensure we achieve synergy and maximise the outcomes for students’. And they emphasise the importance of basing this joint work on evidence of what works in widening access at home and abroad. 

The letter reiterates the Government’s belief that access to higher education should be based on ability, not background. It recognises the high levels of spending that will be made available for widening participation through: the Government’s funding for the National Scholarship Programme (note 3); the investment institutions will make in improving access through their access agreements (note 4); and HEFCE’s investment in widening access and improving student retention (note 5). 

In welcoming the request Sir Alan Langlands, HEFCE Chief Executive, said: 

'HEFCE is firmly committed to the principle that everyone with the potential to benefit from successful participation in higher education should have the opportunity to do so. By building a shared strategy with OFFA, we can ensure that all our efforts to support widening participation and student success are pulling together. We welcome this opportunity to work even more closely with OFFA and to build on the expertise of both organisations to create a coherent strategy.' 

Sir Martin Harris, Director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said: 

'I am very pleased to receive this guidance from Ministers as part of the renewed focus on widening participation and fair access to higher education.

'OFFA and HEFCE already work in close partnership, including jointly monitoring universities’ and colleges’ work on widening participation and improving access. We look forward to building on and strengthening these links as we develop a shared strategy on higher education access and student success that will support the higher education sector and improve social mobility. 

'In particular we will carry out analysis to understand the impact of the considerable work universities and colleges do to widen access, to ensure value for money is achieved.'

Notes

  1. The letter is available is available to download.

    A shared strategy for widening access to higher education

    Download the A shared strategy for widening access in higher education as PDF (125 KB)

  2. View BIS’s grant letter to HEFCE.
  3. The Government's contribution to the National Scholarship Programme will be £50 million in 2012-13, £100 million in 2013-14 and £150 million in 2014-15. Institutions will be expected to match the Government's contribution. For more information about the National Scholarship Programme see HEFCE's guidance to institutions for 2012-13. 
  4. In their access agreements, universities and colleges have pledged to spend £620 million by academic year 2015-16 on measures to improve access to higher education for people from low-income backgrounds and other groups that are currently under-represented in higher education.
  5. For 2012-13 HEFCE has made £364 million available to higher education providers to support widening participation and student retention. This includes allocations of £140 million for widening participation and £224 million for improving retention of students. 
  6. The Office for Fair Access (OFFA) is an independent, non-departmental public body established under the Higher Education Act 2004 to help promote and safeguard fair access to higher education. The main way we do this is by approving and monitoring ‘access agreements’. All English universities and colleges offering full-time and part-time undergraduate higher education courses must have an access agreement with us in order to charge higher fees. Access agreements set out the fees an institution wishes to charge and the access measures they will put in place to sustain or improve access and student retention. Access measures include outreach (e.g. summer schools, mentoring, after-school tuition and links with schools and colleges in disadvantaged areas) and financial support such as fee waivers, bursaries and scholarships. For more about OFFA, please see the OFFA web-site, particularly the Quick Facts and FAQ in the Press section.
  7. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) promotes and funds high-quality, cost-effective teaching and research to meet the diverse needs of students, the economy and society. Our responsibilities are to distribute funds, safeguard quality and assure the proper stewardship of public money. We develop policies and work closely with universities, colleges and other partners to achieve excellence and impact in education and research, and to provide opportunities for all those who have the ability to benefit from higher education.